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Inside Politics

9/11 families make their voices heard

White House modifies stance on commission interview

By Bill Schneider
CNN Political Unit

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Bush ads anger 9/11 families, firefighters
George W. Bush
September 11 attacks
New York
Campaign ads

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- This week, a new pressure group demonstrated its clout -- and got the White House to change its position.

That's a pretty impressive political Play of the Week.

Last week, some family members of victims from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks expressed anger over the president's use of 9/11 footage in a campaign ad.

"We're saying, find some other way to run a campaign without stepping on the bodies of our dead," said Rita Lasar, who lost her brother in the terrorist attacks. She spoke at a press conference in New York City organized by an anti-Bush group of 9/11 families.

Other 9/11 family members have said they have no problem with the Bush-Cheney ads.

Some victims' families have gotten organized and have formed advocacy groups. Their concern is not simply campaign ads.

On Monday, the Family Steering Committee issued a statement saying, "This administration has not fully cooperated with the 9/11 commission. ... President Bush opposed the creation of the 9/11 commission and his administration has set up roadblocks that have inhibited the commission's progress.''

The statement was referring to what is formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, a 10-member bipartisan panel investigating the attacks and U.S. intelligence.

Commission members had complained about a time limit of one hour being set for the president's interview with the panel.

"I encourage him to speak to the commission for longer than an hour, which is all he's willing to give of his time," said Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband in the attacks.

The families' criticism was echoed on the campaign trail.

"If the president of the United States can find time to go to a rodeo, he can find the time to do more than one hour in front of a commission that is investigating what happened to America's intelligence," Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, declared Monday.

One day later, the White House modified its policy.

"The president's going to answer all of the questions that they want to raise," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Tuesday.

What about that one hour time limit?

"Nobody's watching the clock," added McClellan.

When Republicans chose to hold their presidential nominating convention in New York City this summer, the idea of Ground Zero as a backdrop could not have been far from their minds.

Now they have to worry about protests from the victims' families.

"President Bush promised in a speech he gave in 2002 that he would not use the site for political reasons," said Lasar. "We believed him. We trusted him. He has broken his promise to us. To say that we're outraged is the truth."

Bush's surrogates have defended the ads as appropriate, noting that the attacks were a defining moment for the nation -- and the Bush presidency.

The families of 9/11 victims are becoming political players. They've already won the political Play of the Week.

Congress has granted the 9/11 commission an extension of the deadline for producing a final report. It's now due July 26 -- which happens to be the first day of the Democratic National Convention.

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